Auto Insurance for Snowbirds: How Does It Work?

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Heading south for the winter is fun, but it can create questions about auto insurance.

Depending on your insurance needs, driving habits, and other factors, you may need different car insurance products and services as a snowbird.

How does auto insurance work for snowbirds? What type of car insurance should you carry when flying south for the winter? Keep reading to discover everything you need to know about auto insurance for snowbirds and how it works.

You Buy Car Insurance Wherever Your Vehicle is Registered

Each state (except New Hampshire) requires a specific minimum amount of car insurance. You must carry a certain minimum amount of liability insurance to legally drive in each state.

auto insurance for snowbirds

When you buy car insurance, you buy car insurance in the state where your vehicle is registered. If your vehicle is registered in Minnesota because you live in Minnesota for most of the year, then you buy Minnesota car insurance for your vehicle.

When you temporarily leave Minnesota, your car insurance continues to cover you in different states. When you drive to Texas, for example, your Minnesota car insurance covers you in Texas and in any other states you pass through along the way. If necessary, your limits rise or fall to match limits in any states you visit.

When your car is registered in a state, you must meet that state’s insurance guidelines.

However, driving through a state on a road trip is different from temporarily residing in a state for a few weeks or months.

If you are spending more than a few weeks in a state, then you may need to register your car in that state. Once you register your car in that state, you must follow insurance rules for that state.

Registration Requirements for Snowbird States

Theoretically, you need to register your vehicle when you move to a new state. In practice, however, states have specific laws governing registration requirements.

In Florida, for example, you must register your car after being in the state for 90 consecutive days.

Other states are less strict. Arizona, for example, only requires snowbirds to register a vehicle in the state if they’re a resident. Arizona considers you a resident if you have lived there for at least seven months.

Check vehicle registration requirements for your snowbird state to determine if you need to register your vehicle.

Primary Residence vs. Secondary Residence

Generally, your primary residence is where you spend most of the year, and your secondary residence is where you spend other parts of the year.

If you spend seven months of the year in Michigan, for example, and five months of the year in Florida, then your insurer will consider Michigan to be your primary residence and Florida to be your secondary residence.

If you spend an equal amount of time in both states (say, six months in your home state and six months in your snowbird destination state), then your insurer generally uses your driver’s license to determine your primary residence.

How to Buy Car Insurance as a Snowbird

If you decide to register your vehicle in your destination state, then you must follow insurance laws in that state. That means you need to purchase insurance from a provider licensed in your destination state.

Most major insurance companies in the United States are licensed in all 50 states. You can carry your GEICO, Allstate, Nationwide, and USAA policies between states without issue, for example. These companies are licensed in every state, and you can easily transfer your car insurance to match your new registration.

After switching car insurance to your destination state, your rates may rise or fall. States like Michigan and Florida, for example, have some of the highest auto insurance premiums in the country. Your destination state could have different insurance laws than your home state, and that could mean a higher or lower car insurance bill.

Reduce Coverage if Leaving a Car Back Home

Some snowbirds fly south for the winter instead of driving. Others leave a vehicle at home. If you have a vehicle at home, then consider reducing coverage for that vehicle.

Because you’re not driving your vehicle all winter, you can drop insurance to storage/parking coverage or other minimum coverage options.

With parking coverage or other lower coverage options, your vehicle will still be protected against water and fire damage, theft, vandalism, and other unexpected events. However, you’re not protected when driving. You don’t need collision coverage because your vehicle will remain parked throughout the winter. This can save you hundreds of dollars on car insurance.

Should I Drop Car Insurance Entirely?

Some snowbirds drop or pause insurance altogether when leaving their home state. However, this may not be a good idea.

Dropping insurance entirely can nullify your vehicle registration, for example, and force you to surrender your license plates to the DMV.

Dropping insurance could also raise car insurance rates because you lose loyalty discounts and continuous coverage discounts.

Plus, it leaves your vehicle unprotected against any unexpected events. Even if your vehicle is parked in a storage facility, a garage, or another secure location, it could still be susceptible to flooding, fire damage, hurricane damage, burst pipes, theft, vandalism, and other issues.

Penalties for Snowbird Car Insurance Issues

Ignore these requirements at your own peril. If you get into an accident and are not following insurance rules, then your insurer could deny your claim.

Let’s say you drive south for five months. In the fourth month, you cause an accident. You notify your insurer. Your insurer asks for your address. Because your insurer was unaware of your snowbird address, your insurer may deny your claim. Your insurer needs to know where your car is located. Otherwise, it’s difficult for the insurer to calculate risk.

Penalties vary by state and by insurer. Some insurers and states have a lax attitude towards snowbirds, allowing snowbirds to live in a state for several months without needing to switch registration.

Other states and insurers are stricter. You may need to notify your insurer immediately of your destination address, for example, and switch your vehicle registration within 30 to 60 days of your move.

Can I Buy Temporary Car Insurance?

If staying in a state temporarily, then you may consider buying temporary car insurance. However, ‘temporary car insurance’ is not really a thing. As long as your vehicle is actively registered in a state, you must meet legal minimum car insurance requirements in that state.

You can buy car insurance for a few months while you remain in your snowbird destination, and then drop coverage when you leave. However, most major insurers do not technically sell ‘temporary car insurance.’

Driver’s Licenses for Snowbirds

As a snowbird, you can continue using a driver’s license from your home state without issue. Even if you need to register your vehicle in your destination state, you should be able to continue using your driver’s license from your home state.

Florida briefly passed a law requiring Canadian drivers to obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP). However, the state later repealed that law. Canadian snowbirds can continue to use their Canadian driver’s license in Florida and most other snowbird states.

If you live in Arizona for more than seven months of the year, then you are considered a resident, and you need to obtain an Arizona driver’s license.

Contact your Insurer for Snowbird Car Insurance Questions

Snowbird car insurance requirements vary widely between states and insurers.

Depending on your home state, your destination state, the number of vehicles you own, and other factors, you could have significantly different car insurance needs than someone else.

Don’t keep secrets from your insurer: if you have a second home or a temporary residence in your destination state, then give your insurer the address.

Your insurer can also tell you about low mileage discounts, snowbird-specific discounts, and other unique options. Many insurance companies in northern states insure thousands of snowbirds. You’re not the first to fly south for the winter, and your insurer can analyze your insurance needs to determine the best match.

Final Word on Auto Insurance for Snowbirds

Flying south is a great way to escape winter. Snowbirds have more complicated insurance requirements than the average driver. Depending on your insurance needs, your home state, your destination state, and your insurer, you may need to adjust coverage, buy a new policy, or register your vehicle in your new state.

Contact your insurer to determine the best solution for your unique auto insurance needs as a snowbird.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for InsurancePanda.com and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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